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Driver's eye view of the Vancouver Indy track

Sierra's IndyCar II

High Speed Thrills and Spills

The PPG/CART world series, once called "IndyCars" until the upstart Indy Racing League claimed the Indy name, is arguably the most entertaining open-wheel motor racing series on Earth. It's exciting, ultra-competitive, and has yet to succumb to the endless political BS of the Formula I series.

Of course that doesn't mean a game based on the series is any good, but fortunately this sequel to Papyrus' first IndyCar racing game is just as entertaining as the real life equivalent. It proves that not only have computer racing simulations gotten very good, but that driving a car in the PPG/CART series is HARD! You'll gain a new respect for the Al Unser Jrs and Paul Tracys of the world after a few laps around any of the 15 tracks on this CD-ROM.

And those tracks are as varied as the PPG/CART series, though they date back to the 1995 series and so some of the tracks are no longer raced (New Hampshire International Speedway included, unfortunately, though the inclusion of the "Milwaukee Mile" helps make up for that) and some new tracks, like Rio, aren't included. Still, there's enough variety to satisfy fans of ovals, road courses, and temporary street circuits - one of the wrinkles of the CART series that makes it the best there is: each track is different, with its own flavour and challenges.

Screen shot from IndyCar Racing IIYou can practice, participate in a single race, or do an entire Championship season, and your car has all the adjustments you could desire; you can mess with your turbo boost and front and rear anti-roll bars while you're screaming around the track at 200 mph, and while in the garage your crew can tweak your chassis (Lola, Penske, or Reynard) to get that extra little bit out of it.

Besides chassis choices, you can choose Goodyear or Firestone tires and Mercedes, Ford, or Honda engines. And you can even paint your car the way you want it.

There's even a driving tips section in the manual that can help you get the best out of your car and the track it's on.

The racing action itself is first rate. Our reviewer, a roller coaster fan, started out on the Laguna Seca track in California because it offered the "Corkscrew" combination of hill and curves that look so cool on TV. And he wasn't disappointed - but was surprised at just how difficult that track is to maneuver. And that's nothing: once you've mastered the intricacies of the track, you have to learn how to do it in traffic - and that's a whole new ballgame.

Graphics are very good, depending on how you put the settings. The defaults are fairly sparse, but they don't affect the racing quality. If you turn on all the options it gets much better, right down to skid marks on the track, but it may get choppy on slower systems. We ran it on a Pentium 133 with 32 Meg of RAM and 4 Meg of video RAM and it only got choppy when there were lots of cars nearby on the track (even more incentive to keep the other drivers behind you!).

We never did screw up the nerve during our review to allow our car to receive the damage it would if we hadn't shut off the damage. It may have been more realistic, but it would have made our races last about a lap and a half at best. That's because the racing action is excellent - and those other guys can appear almost from nowhere and the first thing you know you're doing a wild series of 360's before slamming into the barrier. It's bad enough to go from second place to 28th without losing your front wing in the process!

One thing you don't get with the Windows 95 version, but which Mac owners do, is radio communication with your pit crew. We also didn't really think the sounds were that realistic, though we don't have the real life experience on which to draw to confirm that. Still, the sounds are good enough and the rest of the game's quality more than makes up for it.

This is a very addictive game. We played it using CH Products' Racing Wheel, and must say that having a real steering wheel to use is the only way to play a racing game. The combination made it very difficult to get any other work done.

Sure is tough having a job like this...


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January 31, 2006